Advent 2018

I know that it’s super late to be talking about what we got up to over advent, but as I have said in some previous posts, we haven’t had the best of Winters… not that Winter is easy for anyone, but anxiety is especially high in our house from approximately October through to mid January here. And then we had loads of things happen like flooded house, car accident, emergency vets, a 3 am trip to A&E… on top of building works, it’s been quite a time. And this blog is primarily for me to keep a track of what’s occurred so I need to go through it all… no matter how late!

As we do every year, we arranged a calendar which gives the children a bit more focus and reduces the anxiety somewhat (well… it doesn’t reduce it, but it makes each day more manageable). The calendar is presented differently each year – sometimes in a series of envelopes, sometimes in little glass bottles. And in each one is a little message that says what today’s theme is.

There are days and activities that occur annually: Letters to Santa on Day 1, putting up the decorations on the first Sunday, Christmas Eve box .The rest generally follows this pattern (unless the above falls on one of those days:
Monday: Charity day
Tuesday: Craft/Challenge
Wednesday: Christmas food
Thursday: small gift day (basically, something we would have given for Christmas but they can’t cope with much so we spread it out).
Friday: Family movie day
Weekends – family related activities (such as visiting Santa, baking Christmas goodies etc.)

This year, as they are loving the whole West Midlands Safari Park idea, we did the Santa Safari for their annual Santa visit. We got an early slot, so that the kids could beat the busy atmosphere – we won’t usually go somewhere like this on a weekend at a “normal” time of year, let alone a busy one. We got there a little early, and they were first in to see Santa. It was definitely well thought out; they had the normal safari park stuff (no theme park during Winter) so access to the safari drive through, access to the walk around bits and sea lion show etc. but with an area setup for Santa. The kids go went through these little sections to break up the queue; a “sleigh ride” to the North Pole, a walk through a little winter Wonderland to Santa’s little lodge, where they get a photo with Santa and then through to the workshop to choose their toy. The ticket also included a visit to get one of Mrs Claus’ cookies and a hot chocolate. The kids thought it was amazing. Because we have done the safari park and the bits around, we didn’t stick around for the festivities as they really cannot handle it, so we leave on a positive note before they get too overwhelmed and have a meltdown. They loved every second of it.

This year, we added a new event to our advent setup that we think we will continue to factor into our yearly plans; we arranged a Christmas coffee afternoon. You can read more about it in our Christmas and New Year 2018 post… but this meant that one of our days was spent baking in preparation.

Christmas and New Year 2018

A Christmas decision

Logan and Caitlin were very insistent that we have Christmas at home, which in some ways is great – it’s so expensive to go away and not be able to join in with anything for Christmas, due to the sheer volume of other people being about. However, being at home for Christmas has never been successful (we had had 3 Christmas days with the children before this one; the first two at home, the third at Bluestone). The only one successful in that time frame was the one spent at Bluestone. So we had to figure out what was different about being at Bluestone (aside from, you know, the obvious of being on holiday) that we could influence from the perspective of being at home. We came up with a couple:


People and expectations: In going away we had taken them away from family and friends and as a consequence lowered their social commitments and expectations. “Ok. We need to replicate that” we thought, so we arranged to have a Christmas Coffee afternoon – mid December. We would have our presents ready for everyone, if people wanted to exchange presents with us (which we discourage as the kids are easily overwhelmed, can’t let go of the stuf they have and don’t have room for more, and frankly, they don’t need presents, they need presence). We would bake a load of goodies and take them with us, setup mulled wine and mulled apple juice, and other drinks. People could just drop in and go off as they please, but we’d be there for like 4 hours. some activities for the kids and it’d all be great. So. That’s what we did.

Presents: Presents were spread out, family had given us presents before we left for Bluestone, we couldn’t take them with us, nor could we fit in ours from one another so we did that exchange before we went away. So Christmas Day was just presents from Santa only and was VERY low key. So we had to aim for that. So we arranged that any presents we had been given before Christmas would be opened prior to Christmas Eve. Then Christmas Eve we would exchange our household’s presents so that by bed time the only thing left would be Santa.

Christmas Eve

And actually – those two things were the only significant differences we could identify. So we did our Coffee afternoon, exchanged presents there. Then opened anything the children got there slowly over the course of the week that followed. We had a special early Christmas planned for Christmas Eve, whereby they’d wake up and get their usual Christmas Eve box (new PJs or an outfit, some new underwear and some hot chocolate ready for bed time routine). Then had a normal morning, followed by a special lunch and a treasure hunt (with picture maps) around our house to find presents that we had bought (and hid) for them – they would open each present in between the search meaning that they had time to run around looking for the next one reducing their anxiety and emotional behaviour. It really worked.

After exchanging presents, the children had a bit of free play time to burn off some energy and emotion. Then as they know I love Harry POtter and had bought me the Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit game, we play that and some other games until it was time to have PJs, get Santa’s treats ready and get up to bed. Every Christmas Eve we hide a new book under their pillows (a tradition we had arranged to hopefully have a little fun)… this year it was a tradition that was finally remembered by them and they were so excited to get through pre-bed time routine to get to their beds . Bed time went smoothly (with the exception of Caitlin feeling a little worried about someone coming into our house whilst she is sleeping… we reassured her that no one apart from us would be in the house. We reminded her that Mumma frequently does things like magic-ing things into a room and she has no idea how they are done, in a similar way her presents would be magic-ed into the living room but offered her the opporunity to sleep in Logan’s room on a mattress. This worked.

Christmas Day

Christmas Eve I had made it very clear to the kids, excitement trumps everything. So no time was too early to ask if it was time to get up on Christmas Day. They would either be told “no, not yet, a bit longer” or in most likelihood “hell yes!”. As I child I was always up at 4am persuading the youngest child in the house to go badger the grown ups to let us get up for Santa’s deliveries. And, anxiety was low enough. For the first year ever I didn’t give up at 8 and go and get them (already awake but too scared to say anything) up myself. They called up at 6am “Mumma, has Santa been?” my heart beated joy “Oh, um… I dunno, why don’t you go down and take a look?”

Santa had been, and he hadn’t left much of his treats on the plate…

The excited screams sounded their way up the staircase. I was worn out, but very VERY happy. I could have cried happy tears in fact “they are doing ‘normal’ kid stuff… what is this?”

The Logan and Caitlin don’t like anyone being left out so Bruce and I have to make each other a stocking and the children had won a stocking at a Christmas Fair so we “had” to fill it for the dog… of course.

The day was very low key, after opening presents, we pulled out the sofa bed and chilled watching the 1940’s version of A Christmas Carol. Then had some breakfast and mostly did a lot of nothing. It was perfect. And ate some glorious food in between. It was perfect. We pulled off a Christmas at home. We know what we need to do now.

New Year

Normally for New Year’s Eve, we have an evening all prepared, we put the clocks forward 3 hours so midnight arrives at 9pm (much more manageable in this house). But actually, some friends were going through a hard time. They came and stayed over. The kids all played together. The adults all played board games and laughed. The kids fell asleep early. We got no photos. It was just immensely fun. A welcome break in the midst of a very stressful time. We loved it.

Christmas Day 2017

Christmas day this year was kept relatively small – it had to be, we were going away and had to fit everything in our boot.

It meant that we were literally left with stuff from Santa and our stockings. Everything else given before we came away was opened ahead of time. Anything else had to wait until we were back.

The plan: lock ourselves away in the lodge, interact with no one else. Take it easy.

It worked. Well, there was some mummy-ninja style morning action; the children are scared to get themselves out of bed for any needs to be met at night, or even in the morning. So after going to the loo, I played some sleigh bells on my phone by their door… it didn’t get them moving. So from the side, I managed to flick their door ajar, and run back to my bed and pretend to be asleep. That got their attention and they actually managed to brave investigating themselves. And discovering that “santa had been”.

Not knowing how Christmas day would go, I prepped all the food the night before. Everything then became a relaxed leisurely doddle.

We opened presents at our own pace. We ate and moved and dressed and crafted and played at our own pace. No pressure from the outside world. And soon enough it was bed time.

Bed time posed some problems, as having such a positive day left the children cotemplating. For Logan, all we could get out of him was that he missed our cat – that’s the only loss he’ll openly deal with – that was indisputably beyond his control. But according to his logic, everything bad that’s happened to him (aside from our kitty’s death) could be, or is, his fault. For Caitlin, it’s confusion or frustration over why we can’t be her birth parents, or why her birth parents couldn’t “sort themselves out” and be her parents – why did she have to change families? or why couldn’t he just have been our daughter from the start?

So we zipped off on the golf buggy, around the tournament field, through puddles, under stars. We filled our lungs with fresh country air and giggled and got wet. And then went home to bed. So far, it has been our best Christmas as a family.

 

Advent

For advent, we try to take the focus away from it being so much about “ooooo people are going to give me stuff” and add messages of family, charity and special time. So to combat that, alongside a chocolate calendar, the children get a challenge and activity calendar.

Each day they get a little envelope with a cue card, of sorts, inside; the card contains a short description which tells them a little about what the day’s activity or challenge is.

This year the schedule was as follows:

1 – Letters to Santa – We always do the Royal Mail Santa Letter because they offer a reply if you do it early.
2 – Webbs of Wychbold Winter Wonderland and Santa’s Grotto – it’s a bit of a trek from where we live, but we had heard that it was amazing, it sure didn’t disappoint the children, but I have reviewed it here.
3 – Decorate the house – as it says on the tin: tree up, decs up. Done!
4 – Pet Shoe boxes – the kids use their own money to buy what they want to give to a local pet charity. As our cat died last advent and we adopted her from a cat rescue in Worcester that is currently closed, we travelled into Worcester to give CATS Protection Worcester their goodies
5 – Family Board Game Day – the children get a new board game for us to learn and play as a family
6 – Family puzzle time – the children get a new puzzle for us to complete as a family
7 – Christmas shopping with Mumma – buying the bits they’d be unlikely to get with Daddy around.
8 – Christmas Movie Night – Family time, snuggled up on the sofa with blankets watching a Christmas film.
9 – Christmas Advent Fair – A trek to Hereford is always worth it for the Steiner Academy Advent Fair. They have a cute little cove where the children can go see the Snow Queen who tells them a little story and gives them a hand made gift, plus story telling, puppet shows, kids crafts, face painting, crafts stalls. The children love it.
10 – Christmas cinema trip – all set to go to watch Jumanji and BAM… snow! We couldn’t go, so we had a snow day instead.
11 – Christmas play – the children opted to sing carols and play in the snow instead of making a proper play this year – we don’t have snow often so I couldn’t deny them this.
12 – Family Board Games day – the children get a new board game for us to learn and play as a family
13 – Family puzzle time –the children get a new puzzle for us to complete as a family
14 – Christmas Shopping with Daddy – not just to encourage the purchase of some gifts for Mumma (even though I thoroughly deserve to be treated of course), to spend some time doing the stuff they normally do with Mumma, with Daddy instead.
15 – Movie night with Daddy – Mumma was off to have some “me” time (otherwise watching a gig and staying in a hotel for the night). So movie night was just with Daddy.
16 – Christmas Crafts with Daddy – Not knowing what time I would get back in the morning, the children had crafts to do whilst waiting for me to arrive home. And again do something with Daddy they normally wouldn’t get to do.
17 – Christmas Delivery Day – the last day we had as a complete family to deliver gifts
18 – Food bank shopping – again using their own money to get things for a local food bank, based on what ever is most needed at the time
19 – Family Board Game Day – the children get a new board game for us to learn and play as a family
20 – Family Puzzle Day – the children get a new puzzle for us to complete as a family
21 – Xmas Movie Night – Family time, snuggled up on the sofa with blankets watching a Christmas film.
22 – Going to Bluestone – This year we chose to go to Bluestone Wales, to spend Christmas on holiday somewhere we knew the kids feel comfortable. Review here.
23 – 4X4 Safari – Bluestone offer 4×4 Safari driving experiences for children in mini 4x4s. The children thought it was amazing and loved s
24 – Christmas Eve Box and tickets to Elftopia – Each year the children get a Christmas Eve box with new PJs and some hot chocolate (and a new book is wrapped and hidden under their pillows for bed time). And at Bluestone they do Kingdom of the Elves, which this year was Elftopia (the review is here)

 

 

Review: Christmas at Bluestone

We needed to find something to do for Christmas that would be easy to dip in and out of depending on the mental state and capacity of the children. Having been to Bluestone National Park Resort several times before, and knowing the setup, and the children having visited and enjoyed it… we figured it was a good choice. And as it was UK based, even if it meant having to drive several hours, we could head home if our plan didn’t work in the slightest.

Bluestone is a “village” based independent resort in Pembrokeshire, with lodges and cottages available for short term rental. All of the accommodation is resort owned and so each type of accommodation maintains a certain standard.

We have previously stayed in a Dinas, Skomer or Ramsay lodge, or in one of the cottages. This time, given the Christmas “premium” we went for the ‘basic’ Caldey lodge. For a basic lodge, it is well equipped. 1 double and 1 twin bedroom with quality furniture, table lamps and decent bedding , with beds made up on arrival and the added travel cot and mattress for those who need to use. Open plan living-dining-kitchen area with comfy sofas, TV and DVD player, coffee table, dining table and chairs. The kitchen has integrated diswasher and fridge (with freezer tray) and electric oven and induction hob. All of the kitchen utensils and accessories you are likely to need to make a decent meal and a welcome pack to get you started in the kitchen containing dishwasher tablets and cleaning supplies. And a wet room with underfloor heating.

 

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Check in time for the accommodation was at 4:30pm, but we were welcome to use the facilities from 11am onwards. After running some errands in the morning we left in good time and got there for around 1:30. We headed down to the Knights Tafarn (the “village pub”). Before heading back up to get our noble steed for the week – the trusty golf buggy named Haf (meaning summer in Welsh, I believe).

Whilst we were there, we spent time in the Blue Lagoon Waterpark, which I have reviewed previously just here and in the Adventure Centre, which is a big unit with 3 three story towers of wooden play equipment connected by rope bridges, tunnels and the like, a bouncy castle, a soft play for under 5’s and adventure golf which are all free to use. It also houses some paid activities such as the sky trail, the wall and a rock climbing wall. And the Wildwood Cafe (a forest themed cafe with dens and coves).

For Christmas they had a light show every night (basically a Christmas light switch on) in the village, the Elftopia (see below) a Christmas Parade (Christmas Eve, to wave Santa off for deliveries and lead down to the Christmas Festival in the village). As well as a host of other paid activities like pantomine, breakfast with Rudolph, chocolate house workshop etc.

They had their tickets to Elftopia on Christmas Eve, they got an elf flight suit onesie each and a passport, adults had to purchase their flight suits for £20 each if they wanted one.  At each zone they had an activity of some sort and then they could get a stamp in their passport. The children loved it, but it was so busy and hyper they were over-stimulated and unable to regulate, by the end Caitlin was clung to my leg and crying. It wasn’t that the activities weren’t thought out well, or unsuitable, something perfectly normal and reasonable can become too much very, very quickly.

We spent far more time in the lodge than we normally would, due to the children needing quiet and calm time; that’s ok, it’s perfectly comfortable and very feasible to do so. But they did take part in the 4×4 Safari, Sky Trail and The Wall, though Caitlin’s legs were playing up by the time she got to the wall and she was incapable of actually doing it.

For Christmas day we had ordered one of their luxury hampers which was more than ample and cost £95. But we didn’t order a tree or decorations (tree was £65 and if we wanted the DIY Decoration pack with it it took the price to £125) which we felt was a bit excessive for just 5 nights, when we already have it all at home anyhow.

We had a good time, and it showed us we could go away for Christmas to help the children with their anxiety but we probably wouldn’t come back to Bluestone for Christmas; there’s so much we can’t do there at Christmas time due to the issues the children have. Would highly recommend to anyone whose children can cope with stimulating and busy cirmcumstances.

Bluestone National Resort Wales